Cheating mars graduation exams in the Maghreb

Sunday 26/06/2016
A 2014 file picture shows Tunisian students taking the secondary school graduation exam.

Tunis - Families across the Maghreb enthusiastically celebrated the success of students in university entrance examinations known in French as Le baccalau­réat and or the Arabised El Bac.
Failure in the exam was consid­ered a major setback by students and their parents. Success in the secondary school graduation exam determines which university stu­dents attend and what major they may select. Students’ futures are perceived as hanging in the balance of how well they perform in bacca­laureate exams.
The numbers of unemployed university graduates have swollen to become a concern for families and a challenge for regional stabil­ity. Still, the exam has not lost its aura nor have parents relented in their pressure on their children to do well.
This is pushing some students to look for shortcuts, including cheat­ing, which takes on new twists every year.
Cheating comes in old-fashioned ways: Looking at someone else’s exam answers, using cheat sheets or having someone else sit in for the test. Education officials also suspect exams have been leaked to curry favour or receive gain from powerful and rich parents.
With the advent of new technol­ogies there have been more novel ways of cheating, including texting answers on a cell phone or posting exams on social media.
A girl underwent surgery to have a listening device implanted in her ear to receive help from relatives when taking the exam. Tunisian students were reported to have sought medical attention after small devices became stuck in their ears.
In Morocco, a French language teacher on the central region of Settat was arrested after he dictat­ed the answers to the exam to his sister over a mobile phone.
Algeria was the first Maghreb country to give the tests this year, with more than 800,000 students sitting for baccalaureate exams. Authorities warned of the dire consequences of cheating and in­stalled equipment in exam rooms to jam telecommunications.
The issue of cheating has turned secondary school graduation ex­ams into a nightmare for authori­ties in Algiers this year. Authorities scrapped the exams for thousands of candidates when education of­ficials were caught on surveillance cameras copying exams to leak them. Police arrested dozens of suspects, including four education officials allegedly involved in pre­paring the exams.
About 30 opposition MPs urged Algerian Prime Minister Abdel­malek Sellal to “clarify the situa­tion of the educational system and the measures to fight the massive cheating in the exams”.
Algerian authorities blocked ac­cess to social media sites on June 19th to prevent cheaters from post­ing exam answers during a reme­dial baccalaureate session.
“This is to protect students from the publication of false papers for these exams,” an official source told the Algeria Press Service, the state news agency.
The problem was a major embar­rassment for authorities. Activists opened ExamLeaks pages on social media to publicise leaks and shame authorities for failing to prevent cheating.
Authorities in Morocco obliged exam-entrants to sign documents which warned that anyone caught cheating ran the risk of a one-year prison sentence. Education author­ities in Tunisia said cheaters would be expelled from school.
In Morocco, where the cases of cheating jumped from 1,009 in 2008 to 10,956 in 2015, more than 430,000 candidates took the exam this year. Dozens of people were arrested for cheating across Mo­rocco. A young man was arrested for stabbing a teacher who caught him cheating.
In Tunisia, the government has so far been spared major embar­rassment from exam scandals this year, which may be bolstering the political fortunes of Education Minister Neji Jalloul.
Jalloul, a leading figure in the secularist Nidaa Tounes party, is thought to be among likely candi­dates to replace Prime Minister Ha­bib Essid if he steps down.